Seeking the Next Gear for a Country with 30 Years of Continuous Growth

Guest blog written by Jacek Kotrasinski 

This is a blog series written by the alumni of the Leading Economic Growth Executive Education Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. Participants successfully completed this 10-week online course in July 2020. These are their learning journey stories.

Photo of Warsaw, Poland, by Jacek Kotrasiński 

Being from Poland, a country that recorded the unprecedented last 30 years of continuous economic growth, I came to the LEG Program to find out how to “Lead the Economic Growth” further. 

I have lived in exceptional times in Poland over the last 40 years. I witnessed the collapse of communism in 1989 and the country’s transformation into the market economy based on the neoliberal model. Then I experienced Poland’s economic growth and integration with the Western political and economic structures – the NATO and the European Union (EU) in the 2000s. And recently, after the 30 years of continuous growth, I can observe the extension of the social market economy and take part in the quest for becoming a high-income, innovation-based developed country, just like the most advanced economies of the EU and the West. 

Taking part in that history line also significantly influenced my career path. Being driven by the sense of public mission to help Poland’s socio-economic development, in the 2000s I became a civil servant. In my capacity as the Head of Unit for Strategic Management at Poland’s Ministry of Development, I worked on Poland’s most significant development strategies and investment programs. And now I am a non-profit leader and an independent expert further focused on fostering social and economic development of territories. 

The growth problem that I have been concerned about, and pursued during the LEG Program journey, was how Poland can sustain its growth towards the innovation-driven, developed economy. 

Over the last years, Poland has been one of the leaders in growth in Europe. Since the early 1990s, the Polish GDP has been constantly growing, being on the 2nd-longest growth line in the OECD, and having not suffered a recession even during the previous financial and economic crisis. After Poland joined the EU, between 2004-2019, the Polish GDP per head grew almost twice, and almost tripled since 1990. In the last few years, the Polish GDP growth rate was one of the highest in the EU, reaching over 5% annual rise in 2018. However, due to the COVID-19 crisis, the GDP for 2020 is forecasted to decline: according to the European Commission and the IMF by over -4% (still, the lowest decline in the EU), and according to the Polish government by over -3%. 

The problem matters because, based on the international and domestic statistics, Poland’s economy is upper-middle-income, and on the edge between being efficiency-driven and innovation-driven. According to the World Economic Forum, in 2018 Poland was ranked the 37th out of 140 countries studied in terms of global competitiveness and had the economy in transition to innovation-driven. And in London’s FTSE and German Stoxx indices in 2018 Poland was just upgraded from the “emerging market” to the “developed market” status. It is needless to say that the innovation-driven economies are world’s development leaders, have the highest social and economic advancement, offer “good jobs”, allow for wealth creation and accumulation, and provide the highest living standards for citizens. 

The LEG Program was highly inspirational and intellectually enriching. Each of the modules offered ideas and learnings that gave new and interesting perspectives, well-grounded in the edge of economic thinking and practice. Each week there was an in-depth exploration of all the most relevant fields of the subject matter and discovering new approaches to the most vital issues. I think that it was extremely valuable to learn more about the growth diagnostics and the problem-driven iterative approach (PDIA). In this context, I was highly interested in the theory and practice of the economic complexity developed at the HKS, as well as in the conduct of the PDIA-based policy making. 

I found the concepts delivered at the Program highly applicable to my growth challenge. Throughout the course period, I identified the most significant binding constraints to Poland’s economic growth and developed a convincing strategy on how Poland can sustain its growth based on the new, active public policy aimed at achieving higher economic complexity. Furthermore, the strategy contains a relevant social inclusion component and the operational delivery tools based on the problem-driven approach. In this way, upon the Program completion, I had a ready strategic and operational solution addressing the growth challenge, to be implemented on the ground in Poland. 

The entire know-how gained during the Program was also highly relevant to the recent context of the COVID-19 economic policy response and the growth recovery. In my capacity as an expert, I am now supporting the government of Poland in the growth recovery policy-making process. And this offers a splendid opportunity to make use of everything learned, and the solution developed during the course, in the programming of Poland’s current economic recovery strategy. 

Finally, it was an exceptional privilege to gain from the teaching excellence of Professors Ricardo Hausmann and Matt Andrews, and the superb management and support from the fantastic HKS Team. Not to mention the highly talented and generous peers. Those outstanding people created a unique spirit of the Program and made it the most valuable and unforgettable experience! 

To learn more about Leading Economic Growth (LEG) watch the faculty video, and visit the course website.

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